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October 19, 2021, 04:47:38 PM

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TIGSource ForumsCommunityDevLogsA Retro SNES-Style Action RPG about a Post-Modern Kitchen Sink Meta-Story
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Author Topic: A Retro SNES-Style Action RPG about a Post-Modern Kitchen Sink Meta-Story  (Read 155 times)
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« on: October 10, 2021, 08:04:59 AM »


For the last twenty years I’ve been keeping notes on the kind of game I wish existed. I really need to make it instead of just thinking about it for the rest of my life. My game is a retro SNES-style indie action-RPG.

As an Action Game

An unplayable game is like an illegible novel, so I’m starting with a prototype of the gameplay. Terranigma for the SNES might be a familiar reference. I like 2D games that have a 3D axis of movement. A better reference might be River City Ransom’s Jidaigeki follow-up on the NES—it was multiplayer; had maps with slopes, ledges, water, and lava; the scenery and enemies could be grabbed, thrown, or used as weapons; and it had as many moves as a Street Fighter clone despite the simple NES controller. I got to thinking—what if a game like that had dungeons as good as Zelda: A Link to the Past? What if it was as beautiful as Seiken Densetsu 3?

As an RPG

Of course I want tight action—but what I really care about is exploration and atmosphere. When I play Earthbound, I think of the NPC dialogue. Less discussed is Soul Blazer, where you raise talking tree stumps from the dead and walk into their dreams of being a bird. I like trippy stuff, like Yume Nikki, and the variety of settings in Chrono Trigger, which is great for the ride even on new game+.

What I’m going for are story-based mechanics. I’m too old for grinding. I’d rather be taking in the world than endlessly squashing slimes, so why not have that be the growth mechanic instead? What if, instead of leveling up against enemies, you got stronger bonding with friends? Suppose skills and magic were acquired by forming relationships with people who can teach you, or buffs and nerfs came from character motivation and emotions? What if all that dungeon loot had narrative significance? I think both gameplay and narrative are stronger when they reinforce each other.


I like the kitchen-sink. I like it when when high fantasy, magical realism, horror, cyberpunk, and space opera collide like in an old OVA. I like it when pirates, wizards, robots, and ninjas all appear in the same party.

I’m not interested in telling just one story, or even a branching dialogue tree of a story—I’m interested in how the moments, situations and events that constitute gameplay can evolve into a story and how narrative can tie them together to create meaning. I’d rather a story told by playing through a scenario than watching cutscenes.

Sounds wishy-washy. What’s that mean in terms of implementation?

My low complexity fallback might be something like a better version of Seiken Densetsu 3—start with a bunch of basic stories and variations, then see how those narrative genes might intersect and mix between playthroughs, maybe with some simple, random re-skins.

My bloatware ambition, however, is a vast, complex, procedurally generated story algorithm capable of novel ideas. I want my game to know how to turn a caveman in a space opera into a dramatic situation, Star Trek: TOS style, or to know how to tell the story of a passionate doctor infected with vampirism. I’m not after an algorithm for its own sake, but because I feel I could express myself better through variations on themes than the inflexible pronouncements of a static story.

The overarching narrative is a kind of post-modern meta-story about a boy who’s wandering between all the possible worlds the game might generate. His family keeps switching from Roman conquerors, middle-class suburbanites, space colonists terraforming an asteroid, and countless other possibilities, so he’s having a hard time. And the world is about to end. Helping him allows you to influence the generation of the next world you play and maybe save the one you’re in. If you’re lucky.

Gameplay with Consequences

I love the feeling of suspense you get wondering if you can survive in a rogue-like—even if I don’t think it’s necessary to resort to permadeath and a deleted save file every time you get a bad roll.

Failure ought to be an option—you lose the mission, the boss K.O.’s your character, they spend several in-game weeks recovering, and other party members have to take over while the story compensates—without feeling like you’ve spoiled everything and you’re on route to the bad ending. I’m interested in how to tell interesting stories, not punishing the player, but tension is a good thing and there needs to be stakes the player cares about. Permanent death and disability shouldn’t make you reach for the reset button. The game should help you grieve, move on, and accept such events as a different kind of story, not a worse one.

About this Dev Log

My intention with this dev log is mostly documentation. I hate how all my favorite games need to be played with a FAQ or Wiki in one window and the game in another—spare me the tutorials and give me your damage algorithms and stat charts in-game!

Therefore, I want to practice communicating about how my game works and why I’ve chosen the solutions I have to the problems I’ve encountered during development. I also suspect a lot of people will share my values as a gamer and be able to provide insights into what I’m trying to accomplish—or maybe just know better than me.

I haven’t much confidence in my skills, but this is a long term project, and I’ve got the rest of my life to burn.

« Last Edit: October 10, 2021, 08:12:42 AM by CrownOfBlonde » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: October 12, 2021, 10:04:29 AM »

Very interesting concept art. Got any mock-ups / prototype screens of the game yet? Really curious.
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